Front Page Titles (by Subject) 377.: LANDED TENURE IN IRELAND DAILY NEWS, 12 AUG., 1848, P. 2 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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377.: LANDED TENURE IN IRELAND DAILY NEWS, 12 AUG., 1848, P. 2 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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LANDED TENURE IN IRELAND
Mill was encouraged to return to his main Irish themes by the article on large and small farms in the Agricultural and Industrial Journal, I (July 1848), 147-71, by Robert John Kane (1809-90), Irish chemist and Professor of Natural Philosophy, appointed in 1845 President of the as-yet unopened Queen’s College at Cork, and a member of the commission investigating the potato blight. Mill’s quotations are from the article. This unheaded third leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on landed tenure in Ireland, in the Daily News of 12th August 1848”
(MacMinn, p. 70).
the journal of the agricultural society of ireland for last month contains an article by Sir Robert Kane, entitled, “The Large or Small Farm Question Considered,” in which he promulgates his sentiments on the economical condition of Ireland. The reputation of Sir Robert Kane, and the public position which he has held, give a sort of scientific, and at the same time official, weight to his opinions, and therefore common sense and common arithmetic, coming from him, may carry an authority which, on the wretched subject of Ireland, they seldom obtain by their intrinsic merits. The clamourers against small holdings and the division of the land may perhaps give heed to him, when he proves by figures that small farms, in the existing circumstances of Ireland, are a necessity; since on the large farm system there would be employment for no more than two-fifths of the present agricultural population, the other three-fifths becoming paupers, to be supported from the produce raised by the labour of the former. Perhaps, too, such an authority will be believed when he says that a small farm (meaning not the thirty acres of the Farmers’ Estate Bill,1 but farms of from ten to fourteen acres), “will always,” when the skill of the farmer and his appliances are equal, “produce more, acre for acre, and pay a higher rent than the large farm;” and he sees no reason why the appliances should not be equal, for there is, according to him, among the cultivating classes of Ireland, “a vast quantity of capital which would be rapidly drawn forth under a proper small-farm system.” [Pp. 165, 166.] “If the real circumstances of the small farmers of Ireland be looked into, it will be found that the investment of a capital of from 80l. to 90l. on a farm of fourteen acres” would be by no means beyond their capability. [P. 165.] “There exists,” he continues, “amongst our poorer classes a show of poverty beyond what even the reality would justify. . . . They are afraid to let it be known they have money, lest their rent should be raised; they are afraid to improve their land, lest their rent should be raised; they are afraid to wear good clothes, lest they might appear to be deriving more from the produce of their farm than the miserable means of physical existence which their landlord will allow them to retain. Hence the money hid in thatch and buried in barns. Hence the secret and illegal deposits in savings’ banks in fictitious names.” [Ibid.]
It is hardly possible, we should think, for the most exclusive admirer of English farming to read this paper, and continue to believe that the most available remedy for Irish poverty is the clearing of estates and consolidation of small farms into large ones; and if the writer is correct in his opinion that there exists in the hands of small farmers sufficient capital for carrying on “a proper small-farm system” in such a manner as to yield, acre for acre, a greater produce than that of large farms, the road to the economical regeneration of Ireland is sufficiently plain. The reader who has followed Sir Robert Kane thus far is anxious to know how, in his opinion, this “proper small-farm system” is to be arrived at. We are sorry to be obliged to tell him that, on this subject, he will get no help from Sir R. Kane. The evils Sir Robert can understand, but on the subject of remedies nothing can be more lame and impotent than his conclusion.2 The same fear which paralyses every minister, every member of parliament, and almost every public writer when the real evils of Ireland come into question, ties his tongue. Most gladly would they do anything for Ireland, only there must not be a word said of the one vital point in the constitution of society as it exists in Ireland—the tenure of land. To fill Ireland with soldiers, blockade her with ships, to seize presses, confiscate newspapers, and imprison men without trial under a Habeas Corpus Suspension Act3 —these things are easy; but to brave the clamour of the men who call even the sale of land to pay the debts of the proprietor a “confiscation of all the land of Ireland,”4 is a thing which cannot be risked even to get rid of the main source of Irish misery and Irish disaffection together. And Sir Robert Kane, although not privileged, like a minister of state, to be ignorant of his business, can propose nothing as a remedy for Ireland but to instruct the people in agriculture: as if any quantity of instruction in farming would make people improve their farms who, on his own showing, hide their money in the thatch, for fear that if their landlord knew of it he would raise the rent! Is it not a mockery to talk of doing any good to the peasantry of a country in such a state of things as this? Who can expect agricultural improvement where the rent depends on the good pleasure of the landlords, and of such landlords?
Yet Sir Robert Kane writes strongly and boldly, while confining himself to generals:
The landlord [he says] has to learn that feudalism is extinct; that Great Britain and Ireland are the only places in the world where feudal landlordism is not extinct, except where the people are still slaves, and that there is a very large and intelligent class who think that the time is close at hand for reforming landlordism here also. The landed interests of this country, shut out by their insular position, by their ignorance and their pride, from making themselves acquainted with the forces of thought that have grown up within the last half-century, and which now govern the opinion of Europe, will only endanger their legitimate influence and position if they attempt to retain for the future the feudal privileges and territorial powers which were the natural social circumstances of the ancient times. Even in Ireland, the hospital for the aged and disabled ideas of Europe, feudalism, and the divine power of land, is dying—its worn out form crushed by the iron power of the industrial spirit.
This is excellent; but, unfortunately, Sir R. Kane does not mean it in the sense in which it can be of any practical use. For the old, worn out theory which he so justly repudiates, that landlords have the duties and are entitled to the rights of governors, he would substitute the doctrine that land falls under the same rules as any other article of commerce, and that neither law nor opinion has anything to do with the mode in which the owner manages it for his own interest.
A landowner is simply a dealer in land—a capitalist who has, either by himself or by his ancestor, invested his capital or his skill in land; he hires out the use of it to certain parties, who pay him therefor, as they pay for the cloth for their clothes, or the furniture for their rooms; and not merely the right, but the plain duty of the landlord is, to get the highest possible price he can for his land, and to compel the payment of that price by law.
We will not comment on this absurd notion of “duty,” nor will we discuss the question—How many of the 8,000 Irish landlords ever did, either by themselves or their ancestors, invest any particle of “capital or skill,” in their land; because we readily allow that the right of property in land in the present day ought not to depend on the manner in which the land was acquired centuries ago. But we do say that this theory of the purely commercial character of contracts for land, wherever else it may be applicable, does not and cannot apply to a country in the exceptional situation of Ireland. The contract for rent, in Ireland, is not between the landlord and a capitalist farmer, who is able to take care of his own interest, and makes no bargain but such as he believes to be commercially advantageous to him. The Irish landlord’s contract is with a peasant labourer, who cultivates not for profit but for existence, and who, if he cannot obtain a piece of land, has no choice but beggary or the poor-rate. It is not peasant farming that is objectionable; on this point we wholly agree with Sir R. Kane; but peasant-farming in an over-peopled country, and at a rent fixed by competition, we hold to be the main cause of all Ireland’s evils. The competition of superabundant numbers makes the tenants promise, and legally bind themselves, to pay nominal rents, exceeding not merely their means of payment, but the entire capabilities of the soil. On the “commercial principle” the landlord could sweep away the last potato; and the only estates in Ireland which are exceptions to the general wretchedness are those of which the owners, abandoning the commercial principle altogether, have taken upon themselves the tenant’s side of the question as well as their own, and have considered, not what the tenant will offer, but what the landlord ought to accept. The public, therefore, is interested, and very greatly so, in the mode in which landlords manage their estates; and if it is their general practice to manage them on a system of which all that we see in Ireland is the natural result, it will not do to say, with Sir R. Kane, that “it is the simple right of an owner of land to sell or let it at the highest price the market will afford.” [P. 169.] It is time to revert to just principles, and to regulate the supposed right of an owner of land in such a manner as to make it at least consistent with the essential conditions of industry, prudence, and material comfort, in the agricultural population.
[1 ]The figure of thirty acres is in the preamble to “A Bill for the Establishment of the ‘Farmers’ Estate Society of Ireland,’ ” 11 & 12 Victoria (25 July, 1848), PP, 1847-48, II, 397-412, enacted on 31 Aug., 1848, as 11 & 12 Victoria, c. 153 (Local Act).
[2 ]Cf. Shakespeare, Othello, II, i, 161; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1213 (one of Mill’s favourite tags).
[3 ]11 & 12 Victoria, c. 95, which had been enacted on 25 July, 1848.
[4 ]See, e.g., Richard Butler (1794-1858), Earl of Glengall, Speech on Encumbered Estates (Ireland) Bill (31 July, 1848), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 100, cols. 1029-30.